DENVER—Four years ago, Carson-Newman volleyball hit rock bottom. The 2016 freshman class did not waver in their commitment to the sport and realized the dream in 2019 doing something no other team in school history had ever done, win two tournament trophies in the same season.
While the Eagles saw their season end on Thursday at the Auraria Events Center to 19th-ranked Rockhurst (33-7) in straight sets 12-25, 23-25 and 20-25, the 2019 Carson-Newman (28-8) team produced a season that raised the bar for the program.
"What a season," Carson-Newman coach Ashley Tiernan said. "It has been a ride. It is a story to tell. It's probably going to be a book written by somebody because it's been such an exciting journey that we have been on. We set out to get here and we got here. Skills aside, we know we made a lot of errors that we typically don't make and had a lot of emotions that we typically don't have. It's not about that. It's about a group of women that have become close friends and battled together. We are walking away from the season with a great mindset and a lot of love for each other and for the game."
Winners of the Southeast Region and South Atlantic Conference Tournament, the Orange and Blue won 28 matches, the third-most in school history while resetting the home wins mark with 14, beating two ranked teams for the first time and notching 18 sweeps closing the season 21-3 over the final two months.
Senior setter Elena Vasquez (Riverside, Calif.) dished out 12 assists and 10 digs for her 10th career double-double. Despite being riddled with injuries in her career, Vasquez stuck with it concluding her career in the National Quarterfinals.
"Last spring we set out with a team purpose," Vasquez said. "Our purpose was to build lifelong relationships regardless of any outcome. I think that's what being a Carson-Newman volleyball player is all about. Our outcome wasn't to make it her today. We are grateful that we did. If anyone ever asked me what Carson-Newman volleyball was about, I would say it's about the team. This sport is what brought us together and it's a beautiful sport. It wouldn't be the experience that I had if it was with any other girls."
Senior outside hitter Marnie Streeter (Goldvein, Va.) tallied seven smashes to bring her career total to 1,390, the fifth-most in school history. She leaves as the program leader in total attacks with 4,812 and a career kill average of 3.09, good for ninth.
"I think later down the road some girl is going [to win one of these matches] and be like it's because of them," Streeter said. "They started it and it's awesome to experience it. If you would have told me freshman year at the end our season that we would end up here I wouldn't have believed you. We have been through such roller coaster. I am so proud of every one of us. We proved that whatever obstacle is in our way we can overcome it. That will follow us through life. It's so much more than volleyball. It's been an awesome experience."
Morgan Ballard (Weaverville, N.C.) wrapped up her historic career with double-digit digs for the 62nd consecutive match adding seven assists and two aces. The only three-time all-region pick in program history leaves the school with the highest dig average of 6.84 with 2,375 total scoops, good for second on the list.
Erin Edwards (Midlothian, Va.) tied for the match lead with nine kills adding three block assists. She finished the season with a .312 attack percentage, the fourth-best mark in school history.
In the match C-N finished with 34 kills, a .079 attack percentage, 35 digs, 10 blocks and three aces. Katie Parnell (Atlanta) extended her school single-season record with six block assists bringing her season total to 154.
Thursday was the first time in more than two months that the team hit below .100 doing so for just the third time this season. Carson-Newman ranked in the top three in the nation in blocks per set and total rejections entering the weekend.
"One thing that we said in the locker room is that no one can take away from you that this is the 2019 Carson-Newman volleyball team," Tiernan said. "You made this happen. This is your team. No one can step in and say that they were a part of it. I truly believe that 10 years from now they may not have spoken with each other but they are going to pick up the phone and feel like it was yesterday because they are that close. It's not a team. It's a family."
The Eagles wasted no time taking a 5-3 lead in the first before an 18-3 burst from the Hawks gave the edge to the No. 3 seed giving Rockhurst a buffer to close out the first game on a kill from Mary Rolf.
In the second stanza, the two sides battled to the tune of 11 ties and seven lead changes with the largest lead for either side being three points. That was the margin in favor of C-N at 17-14 before the Hawks rattled off nine of 12 to take a 23-20 lead. Two straight C-N blocks got the Eagles within one but Rockhurst had enough to seal the 2-0 lead.
Once again in the third set, the Eagles were able to take charge early holding a 14-11 advantage midway through the game before conceding seven in a row. While C-N closed the gap down to one at 19-18, the hill was too steep as Rolf sealed the sweep with a kill.
Rockhurst finished the match with 35 kills hitting .217 with 37 digs, eight blocks and six service aces. Dani Prusha paved the way with 26 assists, 11 digs and four kills from her setter slot. No player finished in double figures as two-time All-American Karli Reichert had nine kills but hit .083.